Early Attucks students rebelled against injustice

 

By Natasha Butler-Thomas

DANIA BEACH, FL – It was a fitting foreshadow that one of the first schools built in the southern portion of Broward County to serve Black students be named for a celebrated revolutionary.

Much like Crispus Attucks, a freedom fighter of Black and Native American descent widely credited as “the first American killed” in the Boston Massacre precursor to the American Revolution, students of the former Attucks High School rallied against the racial inequality of the times to chart a limitless life path.

“You have to remember that it was segregated back then,” said retired Miami-Dade educator Diana Curry, 73, a lifelong resident of Dania Beach and 1962 graduate of the school that would evolve into modern-day Attucks Middle School at 3500 N. 22nd Ave in Hollywood.  “We had to go to school; that’s what our parents taught us.  There was no other option” to advance beyond the socio-racial constraints of the time that, in turn, fostered economic disparity.

In a 2016 executive summary report on the modern-day communications and broadcast arts magnet school, current Attucks Middle principal Errol A. Evans traced the origins of the institution, nestled in Hollywood’s close-knit, Black neighborhood of Liberia, to 1927.  But oral history and conjecture among residents point to an earlier birth near the start of the 20th Century.

“It started in Dania in a little house with just a handful of students,” said Joyce Thomas Grisby, corresponding secretary for the Attucks High School Alumni Association.  While other lore re-envisions the “house” as a Baptist church on Dania Beach Boulevard, where nearly 10 African-American children convened in 1908, most like Grisby agree the school served a vital need for education within the burgeoning South Florida communities in the south, which boasted a then continual influx of migrants from the Bahamas.

Bolstered by the moral and physical support of educational initiatives among the poor, but thriving residents, yet frustrated by the lack of equal educational access and resources, in 1914, Black South Florida pioneers Isadore S. Mizell and Joseph Sidney, both now deceased, applied their carpentry skills to build the Dania School for Coloreds from driftwood and old lumber.   Over a decade later, in 1925, the Broward County Public Schools (BCPS) district would construct the Dania-Liberia School for the dual communities in the south end of Dania.  While progressive in nature, the derivative Attucks School that would ultimately become Attucks Middle was not without its flaws.

In the early days of education in Broward County, there was no mass transit infrastructure to shuttle Black students to and from school campuses; students either walked the distances from their homes, however long, or carpooled with peers whose families had access to vehicles.  There was no air conditioning to keep classrooms cool during the inclement warm months, nor heat to keep them warm during the fickle winter season.

When Dania Beach resident David Nuby, Sr. began his primary education at Attucks in 1942, “at that time, it was a junior high school that only went up to the eleventh grade,” he said.  “From that point, you would have to go to Booker T. [Washington] in Miami or Dillard [high schools]if you wanted to graduate.”

In 1952, the school expanded by one grade-level.  Nuby, Sr., 81, who went on to enjoy a successful career as a traveling rhythm and blues musician with the saxophone skills he learned under then band director Sam Ford, was one the first senior students to graduate from the newly minted Attucks High School two years later.

Additional buildings were added in 1955-56 to house music, physical education, home economics, industrial arts and agriculture programs, according to the BCPS centennial history website.  In 1960, more additions were added, including a gymnasium, cafetorium and library.  Along with changes of a physical nature at the school, this decade would usher in greater changes on the political front in South Florida and the nation, as segregationist times slowly giving way to the Civil Rights protest movement.

In 1968, as the Black Power movement gave way to the 1970’s age of self-love, Attucks High — a beacon for students and families who refused to embrace ignorance in the face of indifference from the prevailing social structure — became a middle school.  “All the kids transitioned from Attucks High School to Hollywood Hills and South Broward high schools,” said Grisby.

Yet, the decades-old lessons, learned under often humble circumstances, endure.

“You had certain teachers when you went to school [that]you wanted to be like,” said Curry, an alumna of Bethune-Cookman College, who taught elementary education.  “People like Miss Joyce Lee, my math teacher…Mary Taylor, who taught science in the high school.  These [community leaders]were examples to me every day of what I could become.  We were like close-knit families in the neighborhoods, where everyone looked out for everybody and you felt safe, even then.  I think I had a great upbringing in the city of Dania Beach.”